For most of my high school and college years, Mama Pat was my safe place. As one of our “youth group moms,” she helped serve supper on Sunday nights and if we were at church, she was always around. Her son, Jimmy, was one of my best friends, so I’m sure that helped us establish a bond. But mostly, she simply loved all of us teenagers well and showed us the power of a bonus mom.
When I needed advice or just someone to talk to, Mama Pat always made time to listen. When we didn’t want to go out “partying” after Prom but also didn’t want to be boring and go home, she offered her house for our “after-party,” complete with a home-cooked meal at 2:00 am. She was there at church camp for our late-night talks. She was there cheering in the stands at my home soccer games. She was there on our mission trips, there in the prayer chapel, and there when I moved into my college dorm. Whether praying, laughing, cooking, or listening, this is what I remember most about Mama Pat— she was always there.
In my experience, being a bonus parent is the most underestimated role with the greatest potential for influence in the lives of our teenagers. Stop for a moment and think about all the teens in your life. Whether you’re an aunt or uncle, a close family friend, or a church/team/school parent, hanging out with teens creates a variety of opportunities to plant seeds in their hearts and minds.
You get to listen to their conversations as you drive them to practice. They will share their joys and heartbreaks as they sit on your couch watching YouTube and Netflix. You get to peek into their soul as you watch them perform in the band or on the court. Due to the nature of adolescence, these teens are more likely to share things with you and listen to your opinion than they are to their own parents. What a wonderful opportunity—and tremendous responsibility—the Lord has given us! And as an added benefit, our advice sometimes has a trickle-down effect, influencing our own teens in the process.
The Bible is filled with examples of ordinary people who served as bonus parents:
There are others, of course, but obviously, this type of relationship is one God often uses to shape the hearts and minds of young people and accomplish His purposes. Sometimes this happens in extraordinary ways, and sometimes it happens through everyday, ordinary encouragement.
Sometimes bonus parents are an addition to healthy parental relationships, and sometimes they help fill in the gaps where a relationship is struggling or lacking. In cases of death, divorce, or single-parent homes, having someone to step into this role is essential. And even in two-parent homes, it is fairly common for teens to struggle with one or more of their parents, at least at times. A healthy bonus mom recognizes this and seeks to understand and empathize with the teen’s feelings and bridge the gap while encouraging the parental relationship whenever possible.
In the case of a broken home or a missing parent, a bonus parent can step in—not as a replacement for the absent parent, but as someone offering additional support, training, and wisdom. They almost always fill other roles, too—an encourager, a prayer warrior, an instructor, or a truth speaker. They have the opportunity to communicate things that are met with a great big eye roll when a parent says it, but are much better received from them. Bonus Parents can be single or married, old or young, invest a little bit of time or a lot; the main thing is simply to recognize moments of influence and use them wisely.
A great example of this is the relationship between Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) and his Uncle Ben, as portrayed in the 2002 movie, Spider-Man. After Peter’s parents die in a plane crash, he is raised by his aunt and uncle. When Peter begins grappling with his new identity, Uncle Ben pulls him aside for a man-to-man talk. He sees Peter’s internal struggle, and wanting to help, tries to empathize and share some parental wisdom.
“These are the years where a man changes into the man he’s going to become for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into,” he advises. “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”
In the stress of that moment, Peter wants nothing to do with it. He pushes Uncle Ben away and tells him to quit trying to replace his father. But his beloved uncle’s words continue to echo in his ears and eventually become the foundational mantra of the web-slinging hero. Taking advantage of these moments to speak wisdom into the teens in our life can make all the difference.
Think back to your teen years. Who were the Bonus Parents who impacted your life? How would your life be different if they had not been around? I talked with a sweet friend last week who experienced terrible abuse from people she should have been able to trust and depend on during her childhood and teen years. Even so, she also mentioned a friend’s mom who reached out to her during those years and made an effort to protect her and help her open up.
Unfortunately, not every adult influence is going to be a good one. But even one good one can make all the difference. As Josh Shipp, former foster kid and teen influencer reminds us, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”
Who do you know who could benefit from your influence as a bonus mom? Like Mama Pat, God might just want to use you to change someone’s life simply by being there.